Rachel Prior and John Saxon are going to be in Kenya in October with other curates from across the diocese of Chelmsford. Visiting our link dioceses there will develop their understanding of God’s worldwide Church and encourage the Christians they meet. They will return enriched but also, I suspect, with some unsettling questions to consider.
On my return from Uganda in 1988, having spent two years teaching in a remote village, I grappled with two issues in particular. One of the striking features of the culture where I lived was a deep sense of gratitude which pervaded life, despite their poverty – most people lived off what they could grow on their land and sold produce at the market to make money. Nevertheless, in the prayer times I shared with others in church and in the Scripture Union at the school, ‘thankfulness’ was the dominant theme. Most prayers began with something like this: ‘Father, I thank you for keeping me alive until now.’ Their gratitude for all God’s provision was underpinned by the awareness that life itself is a wonderful gift. Their appreciation of God’s goodness was also expressed by how they valued each other’s contribution to the community’s life. For example, when I was walking back from the school to my nearby home, villagers would greet me and thank me for my day’s teaching, whether they had children at the school or not. Being grateful was integral to their mode of life, in marked contrast to the complaining and grumbling that can so easily infect our public discourse and our everyday interactions. There is challenge here for us, particularly for Christians for we recognise that ‘it is our duty and our joy’ to give thanks to God.
Living in a poor, rural Ugandan village for two years as a well-off Westerner forced me to consider how I should respond to these two realities. Whereas I came from a wealthy background, I was living face-to-face with others who had little, many of whom I knew well and had grown to love. As individuals and as a church we have to decide how to spend our money, conscious of both situations. If we are not going to withdraw from our own context, there are pressures to conform to the norms of a Western standard of living. Yet, we cannot forget those who barely have enough to survive. When a church seeks to fund-raise to pursue a project, such as improving the facilities at the back of church by installing a servery and a toilet, the charge can be made that ‘surely there are more worthwhile causes, after all there are millions of people living in dire need.’ This is a legitimate argument but one that equally applies to individuals and families. Ethically, spending money on our own houses is no different from the PCC spending money on the building in its care. We have to acknowledge that we live in this tension in the West. There is no easy resolution. Rather, we have to live out our Christian calling in this setting, fulfilling our responsibilities and pursuing God’s mission here. On the other hand, we cannot ignore the plight of the poorest in our world. Being prosperous in a world where many are living on the breadline or in squalor confronts us when we go to a local Foodbank or visit the slums on the outskirts of Nairobi as Rachel and John will do.
Rachel and John head off shortly after they have been ordained to the priesthood at St. Mary’s, Saffron Walden at 3 p.m. on 29th September, a service to which you are all warmly invited. On their return, they have promised to share with us what they have learnt. We look forward to hearing about how this cross-culture experience has shaped and shaken them, and how their understanding of God’s church has been broadened by their encounters with Kenyan Christians. Above all, I hope that through them, we will learn more about the Christ who is the pattern of our life together and who can teach us how to live gratefully and wisely.
Jesus of all the earth,
Global, local, personal,
Make, hold and keep
Us in one community of love.